Navigating the complex sea of America’s health care system was made easier for many of Alabamians thanks to Janet Bradford. But, she’s pulled up anchor after 39 years with Alfa Health and set sail for the Gulf Coast and the next chapter in her life.
Bradford, 56, began her career at Alfa as a senior at Robert E. Lee High School in her hometown of Montgomery. She retired July 31 from the only job she’s ever had.
“I was in the student work program where I attended school half a day and worked in the afternoon,” Bradford said. “Linda Finney (former Alfa Health manager) hired me as a student worker my senior year, then hired me full time in October 1981. The job has changed a lot over the years, but the best part has always been helping people.”
Known for her hard work, attention to detail and, most of all, her customer service, Bradford was named assistant manager of Alfa Health in 2003 and was promoted to manager in 2007. At its peak, Alfa Health had more than 70,000 policies in Alabama.
Alfa Health is a member service of the Alabama Farmers Federation. Founded as Alabama Rural Health in 1968, the service originally provided a group health plan for farmers, individuals and small businesses who did not have access to employer health plans. For almost 30 years, Alfa Health was Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama’s only group plan available for self-employed customers. Bradford’s division also managed dental coverage for Federation members.
The emergence of individual health insurance plans in the ‘90s and passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2010 dramatically changed the way farmers and others obtain health insurance. Today, Alfa Health gives members access to Blue Cross Blue Shield of Alabama products through local Alfa Insurance offices and the Federation home office.
Bradford said the ACA changed the health insurance landscape.
“There have always been changes in health insurance from year to year, but the ACA was by far the biggest change I’ve experienced in my career,” Bradford said. “I remember talking to one lady who had never had insurance before. Through the ACA, she was able to get insurance for herself and her children. For others, it brought about significant premium increases. One of the best parts of my job was being able to help people determine the coverage they needed and could afford.”
Over the years, serving customers created a fan base for Bradford among Federation members who were relieved to find someone to translate what often seemed to be a foreign language.
“I’ve never met her, but I feel like she’s a real friend,” said Jeremy Sessions, a farmer from Grand Bay in Mobile County. “Talking to her on the phone about the different insurance plans, what they cost and what they cover, I always felt like she had my best interests at heart — like she was an advocate for me to get the coverage I needed. She’ll definitely be missed.”
Bradford has made her share of fans in the Federation home office, too. Executive Director Paul Pinyan said he can’t name anyone who knows more about health insurance.
“For almost 40 years, Janet has been the voice of Alfa Health,” Pinyan said. “She has helped countless Federation members navigate the confusing and sometimes intimidating waters of health insurance. Her knowledge of changing insurance regulations and genuine compassion for our members provided cost savings and peace of mind to thousands of people.
“Janet has served as a counselor, trainer, financial manager and supervisor,” Pinyan added. “She leads by example — working weekends and nights during open enrollment to make sure every member is served. We appreciate Janet’s tireless dedication to Alfa Health and the members it serves. She will be missed, but we wish her and Billy all the best in retirement.”
Bradford said while she’ll miss her Alfa family, she’s looking forward to spending more time with her own family and enjoying their new home in Seagrove, Florida. She and husband Billy, a retired Alfa Insurance agent, enjoy cycling, walks on the beach and exercise. The Bradfords have two sons.
“I have worked with some great people over the years,” Bradford said. “ I appreciate Linda Finney, who gave me an opportunity to come to work for such a good company. I especially appreciate (Alfa Health employees) Sandy Smith and Martha Rich, who have worked alongside me for years, as well as Leslie Cox, who has helped us each year during open enrollment.
“I’m going to stay active and enjoy the beach,” she said of her retirement plans. “Everyone knows I’m an animal lover, so I plan to do some volunteer work with an animal rescue group. We’re looking forward to having family and friends at the beach. Mostly, I’m looking forward to the freedom retirement will allow me.”